Jun Fukuda

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974, Fukuda Jun)

I want to be more enthusiastic about Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla. It has a number of good moments, often involving giant monsters, which is impressive. Godzilla facing off against a mechanical Godzilla (not to mention a flesh-covered cyborg–nothing dead will go), it’s a great visual. Director Fukuda milks it and he milks it well. The film sails into the third act, but the finish is more a stalling out than an ending. It’s too bad, because so much of the film’s a success.

The human stuff–two brothers who get involved with an alien plot to destroy the planet and the giant dog monster protector of Okinawa, complete with love interests and mentors–is solid. Everyone works at their part, even when they have nothing to do. Daimon Masaaki spends the entire fight scene acting with his eyebrows. None of his emoting matches what his character is watching, but it doesn’t matter. The dedication is endearing.

So it’s even more frustrating where Mechagodzilla finally breaks down is in resolving all that human stuff. The final fight is a pyrotechnic marvel–the whole film’s a pyrotechnic marvel–but the light show is a poor substitute for an ending to the film. Fukuda doesn’t have a finish.

Lots of good work from the crew, particularly Ikeda Michiko’s editing. He does these snappy montages and creates a far amount of tension in a short amount of time, just with the actors’ expressions. Satô Masaru’s music is necessary for those montages to work. The score keeps a certain pace to the film.

Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla is a well-produced, well-acted Godzilla movie. But it’s too slight on story, too slight on characters. Fukuda doesn’t balance the human story and the monster battle and it sinks the film just when it needs to be excelling.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; screenplay by Fukuda and Yamamura Hiroyasu, based on a story by Fukushima Masami and Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Satô Masaru; production designer, Satsuya Kazuo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Daimon Masaaki (Shimizu Keisuke), Aoyama Kazuya (Shimizu Masahiko), Tajima Reiko (Kanagusuku Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Professor Miyajima), Matsushita Hiromi (Miyajima Ikuko), Koizumi Hiroshi (Professor Wagura), Imafuku Masao (High Priest Tengan), Lin Beru-Bera (Princess Nami), Kishida Shin (Interpol Agent Nanbara) and Mutsumi Gorô (Alien Supreme Leader Kuronuma).


Godzilla vs. Megalon (1973, Fukuda Jun)

Godzilla vs. Megalon is madness. There are two distinct portions of the film and both of them are crazy. Initially, these portions might more seem stupid than crazy, but they’re crazy. Director Fukuda gets to make an espionage thriller and a Godzilla movie where Godzilla communicates with the other monsters. He even shakes hands with the humans’ emissary, a wimpy giant robot named Jet Jaguar who Godzilla constantly has to save, which is awesome. And Godzilla is portrayed as the tough good guy. It’s nuts.

The setup is real simple. Kawase Hiroyuki is the adorable little brother of giant robot inventor Sasaki Katsuhiko. Sasaki doesn’t know the robot will grow, but the evil undersea espionage agents do so they kidnap Kawase and Saskai. Luckily, Sasaki’s best friend is a charismatic troubleshooter with a fast car and a cool leather jacket. Hayashi Yutaka takes the role seriously, which makes it all work. There are practically no other characters. Japan’s apparently empty at this point in Godzilla history.

Then come the monsters. Giant robot man, giant bug, giant other space bug, Godzilla. And a weird, friendly but still dangerous Godzilla. It’s a rush job, but the result is pleasant. Since Megalon asks the viewer to think about Godzilla as a relatable character, it’s important to have his visual “character” work. It’s not like the mask is particularly animated.

Excellent photography from Aizawa Yuzuru, excellent editing from Ikeda Michiko throughout, in both the action thriller and the giant monster sections. Some poorly inserted footage from previous Godzilla movies hurts the flow of the action sequences–which also have to deal with the problem of new monster Megalon, who looks real dumb–but Fukuda keeps it moving. He likes working with the scale of the giant monster battles. There’s some rather good miniature work in Megalon too.

Megalon is a lot of dumb fun. Thoughtfully constructed dumb fun.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; screenplay by Fukuda, based on a story by Kimura Takeshi and Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Aizawa Yuzuru; edited by Ikeda Michiko; music by Manabe Riichirô; production designer, Honda Yoshifumi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Sasaki Katsuhiko (Goro), Kawase Hiroyuki (Rokuro), Hayashi Yutaka (Jinkawa), Tomita Kôtarô (Lead Seatopian Agent), Ôtsuki Ulf (Seatopian Agent) and Robert Dunham (Emperor Antonio of Seatopia).


Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972, Fukuda Jun)

Godzilla vs. Gigan is a little like a filmed ballet or play. It’s a performance of its Kaiju ballet. The Kaiju ballet has a stage–a surprisingly large soundstage with a miniature Tokyo or Mount Fuji landscape for serve as the ring in which the men in suits wrestle. The men in suits are not the stars of the Kaiju ballet, they’re more like the stars’ operators. A good Kaiju ballet has the right set, right suits, right men in suits, right direction, right photography. Those people, and many more, get together and the men in suits pretend they are giants. Then the right editor and the right composer have to come along and get it into the finished project. Appreciating a Kaiju ballet is appreciating how everything has to flow together.

And for Gigan, Toho cuts corners and reuses footage, which really hurts the flow and offends Hasegawa Kiyoshi’s fine cinematography. Lazy day for night filtering on the old footage doesn’t match Hasegawa’s nighttime lighting of the miniature set. It’s unfortunate, but editor Tamura Yoshio does a decent enough job incorporating the content of the scenes into the visual narrative and Gigan gets past it.

The rest of the film, involving intergalactic cockroaches (literally), an out of work cartoonist and his karate black belt lady friend (unclear if it’s romantic), two urban environmentalist revolutionaries (or something), is fine. It’s silly, but the cast is game and Honda Yoshifumi’s production design is a lot of fun.

The film even has an inexplicable, heavy-handed warning against being beholden to technology. Because the bad guys made a giant artificial Godzilla in their theme park. It’s very strange. And a lot of fun.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; screenplay by Sekizawa Shin’ichi, based on a story by Kimura Takeshi; director of photography, Hasegawa Kiyoshi; edited by Tamura Yoshio; music by Ifukube Akira; production designer, Honda Yoshifumi; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Ishikawa Hiroshi (Kotaka Gengo), Hishimi Yuriko (Tomoe Tomoko), Takashima Minoru (Takasugi Shosaku), Umeda Tomoko (Shima Machiko), Fujita Zan (Sudo Fumio), Murai Kunio (Shima Takashi) and Nishizawa Toshiaki (Kubota).


Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster (1966, Fukuda Jun)

I’m having a difficult time writing about Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster because, even though the movie isn’t good, I wish I liked it more. I wish I enjoyed it more. As a cultural artifact, Sea Monster is definitely interesting. Most of the film has to do with these four not so bright dudes–even Takarada Akira as the older one–stumbling into a James Bond movie where the villainous organization is out to rule the world. Or something. And they keep a giant sea monster.

Director Fukuda doesn’t do a terrible job overall. He does a lot better with some sequences than others; he’s humorless, which is one of Sea Monster’s biggest problems, but he is serious about the film itself. Given the Godzilla suit and the limited set for the guy in the Godzilla suit to energetically walk around, Fukuda’s seriousness sometimes seems out of place.

None of the film’s giant monster sequences are particularly memorable (the sea monster looks like a giant lobster and is much more effective when just menacing passing ships with a single claw) but they’re distinct sequences in the film. With Satô Masaru’s groovy music, they’re usually silly. Until they become serious (as evidenced by the change in music). Once the seriousness hits, Sea Monster turns into a really effective suspense thriller. It just happens to have Godzilla and a bunch of scantily clad South Seas islanders running around.

And the four dudes.

Maybe if the acting were better–leading man Takarada is particularly weak, though it’s not like he has a role to play. Sekizawa Shin’ichi’s script is just plain lame. It’s distinctive, but lame. None of the other actors make much impression. Except Hirata Akihiko (he and Takarada were the leads in the original Godzilla) and not in a good way.

As that historical cultural artifact, Sea Monster is nearly worth seeing. Just as a movie? I don’t know. The last quarter or so is tightly edited, wonderfully paced. Fujii Ryôhei ratchets the tension. Fukuda’s far better with secret agent action thrills than giant monsters. Satô’s score, whether groovy or somber, is excellent.

Sea Monster’s a try and a fail and Fukuda doesn’t seem to be aware he was trying.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Masaru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Takarada Akira (Yoshimura), Watanabe Tôru (Ryôta), Ibuki Tôru (Yata), Tôgin Chôtarô (Ichino), Sunazuka Hideo (Nita), Mizuno Kumi (Daiyo), Hirata Akihiko (Red Bamboo Captain Ryuui), Tazaki Jun (Red Bamboo Commander) and Pair Bambi (Mothra’s Little Beauties).


Son of Godzilla (1967, Fukuda Jun)

Strangely enough, Son of Godzilla ends well. It’s a surprise because the film loses a lot of steam throughout. Whether it’s the human plot or the Godzilla plot, the scene inevitably fails because of director Fukuda. Unless it’s one of the multiple times writers Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue completely fail. Son of Godzilla constantly starts and stops. There’s no unifying style.

Directing the actors, Fukuda often shows ambition. It’s just there’s no way for that ambition to be realized. While he can intuit how a scene should play, he can’t make the scene play. Fukuda is just a bad director–and, of course, Fujii Ryôhei’s tone-deaf editing doesn’t help anything.

The film has an appealing male lead, a too enthusiastic newspaper reporter (Kubo Akira) who ends up as short order cook for a group of scientists. They’re studying weather conditions on an island where Godzilla and other giant monsters coincidentally are hanging out. The film often plays the giant monsters for laughs. Not well, but still successfully. The interactions between Godzilla and his not quite as giant son, Minilla, are endearing and fun. If incompetently visualized.

Now for a few things deserving standout attention.

First, Beverly Maeda as an island “savage” who’s always saving Kubo. She’s this great character; then, all of a sudden, Kubo’s the boss. But nothing about the characters’ personalities change, just Maeda’s place in the film. Logically, she should still be the hero but she isn’t. It hurts the film a lot. Maeda’s performance isn’t quite good, but she’s definitely appealing. At least until she’s the damsel.

Second, the music. Satô Masaru does this crazy, campy, playful score for the film. For ten minute stretches, Satô’s score makes Son of Godzilla feel like an absurdist comedy. It seems like Fukuda gets that disconnect, but then he doesn’t properly utilize it, which again makes the filmmaking appear inept. It’s as though everything good about the film–except the acting–is accidentally okay.

Finally, the giant mantises who terrorize the humans (who are more interested in the weather than these giant monsters) and Minilla. While the special effects are problematic in the film, the mantises are great. As are the backdrop paintings. Fukuda can’t direct the jungle sets, however. They’re always stagy.

But then comes Son of Godzilla’s last sequence and it’s amazing. Fukuda doesn’t screw up the direction and Satô’s score changes tone and the humans finally say something interesting. The successful ending closes the film on its highest note.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Fukuda Jun; written by Sekizawa Shin’ichi and Shiba Kazue; director of photography, Yamada Kazuo; edited by Fujii Ryôhei; music by Satô Maseru; production designer, Kita Takeo; produced by Tanaka Tomoyuki; released by Toho Company Ltd.

Starring Kubo Akira (Goro), Beverly Maeda (Saeko), Hirata Akihiko (Fujisaki), Tsuchiya Yoshio (Furukawa), Sahara Kenji (Morio), Maruyama Ken’ichirô (Ozawa), Kuno Seishirô (Tashiro), Saijô Yasuhiko (Suzuki) and Takashima Tadao (Dr. Kusumi).


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